The federal government is admitting it badly underestimated the number of children that were physically and sexually abused at Indian residential schools.

Aboriginal Affairs official Andrew Saranchuk says original government estimates put the number of former residential school students who qualify under the independent assessment process at a little more than 12,000 students.

However, he says in reality the actual number is more than three times that.

“The number of people who have put in applications to be part of the independent assessment claims process is now 38,000, so at least triple what we had identified, and quite frankly its closing in on half of the people who went to residential schools,” he says.

Saranchuk was speaking before the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples in Ottawa last night.

The federal government also says missing records could play a role in determining whether or not a claim of sexual or physical abuse by former students is accepted or denied.